A Silk Road To A Greek Town's Recovery

The small Greek town of Soufli is hoping to revive a long-dead local economy, silk production, as a way to bring tourists to northeastern Greece. NPR's Joanna Kakissis profiles a father and son who have built a private museum and sell silk products.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The northeastern Greek town of Soufli flourished in the 19th century because of its vibrant silk trade. Silk farming declined in the 20th century with the invention of synthetic silk, but a few families have hung on. Despite the economic crisis, one of those families opened a silk museum in the hopes of drawing tourists and life back to a forgotten Greek town.

Joanna Kakissis sent us this postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Giorgos Tsiakiris turns up a traditional song from Thrace and adjusts a wall of bright scarves. He's opened up his silk museum for the day. The museum is in a remodeled neoclassical house near the town square of Soufli. This is his home town, and back in the 19th century, it was a center of silk production. Families cultivated silkworms that feasted on the branches of the many mulberry trees here.

Workers spun the raw silk into thread. Tsiakiris walks to an old reeling machine to demonstrate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

GIORGIOS TSIAKIRIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: These machines are between 50 and 70 years old, he says. These used to be the most productive machines of the time.

Then Soufli was outpaced by automation and the tremendous silk production in China. The Tsiakiris family has been making silk for more than 60 years. Giorgos Tsiakiris says the shaky Greek economy would benefit by producing more goods at home.

TSIAKIRIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: We are at odds with Chinese products, which in my opinion are of much lower quality than ours, he says. We can sell a product that is really high-quality and at a rate that is not much more expensive than a Chinese one.

He holds out one of the scarves. It's inexpensive, he says, 15 euros or about $20.

TSIAKIRIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: This is one of my favorite pieces, he says, because it's got a Greek motif. These are the dolphins of ancient Santorini from 2500 B.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS AND A CLACKING LOOM)

KAKISSIS: He walks upstairs to an exhibit area that features an old loom. His 74-year-old father, Yiannis, is weaving on it.

YIANNIS TSIAKIRIS: (Through Translator) I used to do this for years. We made men's suits and scarves and many other things. Now, people use new automated machines. They just push buttons. This tool had creativity, you wondered how the fabric would come out and if it would sell.

KAKISSIS: His son opened the museum and shop in 2008 and doesn't charge admission. He says he gets at least a couple of visitors a day.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION)

KAKISSIS: A Portuguese policeman arrives. He wants to find out more about silk in Soufli. And he also wants to buy a scarf for his girlfriend. Giorgos Tsiakiris smiles and leads him in.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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